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Strategy Management for IT Services – holding your steering wheel

There is a process in the scope of ITIL whose results are highly important for the organization, yet the process is very rarely implemented. It’s Strategy Management for IT Services. Can you imagine an organization without strategy? It’s like sailing a ship without a destination, and it’s a question of luck how the journey ends. The same goes for your IT organization. If you don’t have strategy, you are only responding to demands and trying to satisfy them – reactively rather than proactively.

Some years ago I was appointed by the Board of Management to build up our IT organization (IT was providing services to internal customers). I started my assignment and learned how the existing (strategy-less) IT organization lived: anyone could require anything from them (including new services), and no one knew how and how timely they should react, who was responsible for what… etc. Organizational structure was set, but the strategic goal was something like “to survive one more day.” Well, that might work for a short time, but in the long-term – no!

This is not an isolated case. Thankfully, more often strategy management for IT services is in place. Maybe not as a stand-alone process or as described in the ITIL Service Strategy book – but it is done. Competition analysis, market surveys, technology consideration… some managers do that on a daily basis. If your customers are other companies, there is no way to survive without good strategy. In the case of an internal IT organization – you can survive for a limited time, but without strategy you are extremely reactive, slow and always a step behind.


IT and strategy

I agree – life is easier for internally oriented IT organizations. Business itself defines strategic goals which need to be supported by the IT organization. You just have to make sure to understand those goals and implement them through the services you provide. It is really more complex than that, but it could be described in such a way.

If you have customers outside the organization, it gets complicated. A more “strategic” approach needs to be taken. What does that mean? It means that you have to know where are you going, how you will get there and how you will know if and when you do get there.

There are some activities of Strategy Management for the IT services process that address most of the abovementioned concerns:

  • Identification of opportunities – this includes analysis of internal and external environments that will provide opportunities for your company.
  • Positioning – the company needs to define its position with regard to other companies (i.e. competition) and customers. So, this should be, e.g. defined targeted market segment, services that will be offered and how competitive advantage will be kept.
  • Plans – strategic plans for IT, service management and every service need to be defined. These plans need to contain tactical (e.g. processes) and operational (activities, procedures, technology) content.
  • Constraints – sometimes strategy can be defined by constraints, which could include, e.g. legislative or standard constraints that need to be followed. I know some cases where companies in business with financial institutions often have to be ISO 27001 compliant. That needs to be considered while defining strategic goals for such an organization.

Approach

So, how do you define your own strategic goals? We mentioned basic activities. When you dig deeper inside them you will discover many new issues before you get to the strategic goals. And that takes time. Practice has shown that there are some general attributes of strategic goals:

  • Simplicity – keep them simple. Don’t complicate; otherwise, no one will understand them.
  • Number – define just a few goals. Even big organizations have problems trying to achieve many goals. Ideal number – hard to tell, but there shouldn’t be more than 5-7 goals.
  • Level – define different levels, e.g. primary and secondary goals. It will be easy to define priorities, resources and activities.
  • Ambiguity – avoid it. Objectives should be easy to read and understand.

In general, strategy is management’s job. IT management defines IT strategy in line with enterprise management. Using internal resources, IT management defines strategic goals for the particular services in order to support business strategy. This is also an opportunity to underpin business strategic objectives or even improve them with technological solutions, supporting organizations and processes of affected services.

Strategy Management for IT services has to ensure that services and the way they are managed support the overall enterprise strategy. So, don’t let the rudder out of your hands, talk to the business, set the goals and plan actions to achieve them. And keep both strategic goals and actions to achieve them SMART (S – Specific; M – Measurable; A – Achievable; R – Relevant; T – Time-bound).

Download a free sample of our Strategy Management for IT Services process template to learn how to set up the process and create a Strategy Plan.

Advisera Branimir Valentic
Author
Branimir Valentic
Branimir is an expert in IT service management (consultancy, training and tools), IT governance (training and consulting), project management and consultancy in IT and telecommunication. He holds the following certificates: ITIL Expert, ISO 20000, ISMS Lead Auditor and PRINCE2.